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F5: a book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:28 PM GMT on June 13, 2007

F5: Devastation, Survival, and the Most Violent Tornado Outbreak of the 20th Century tells a story from the world's most violent tornado outbreak on record--the April 4, 1974 Super Outbreak. The Super Outbreak featured the most tornadoes ever recorded in a single day, 148, and also had an unprecedented number of violent F4 and F5 tornadoes--six F5 tornadoes and 24 F4 tornadoes (for comparison, the past five years have had one F5 tornado and 15 F4 tornadoes.)

The book has some excellent material discussing the "how" of tornado formation, plus an entire chapter on the life and pioneering research done by tornado researcher Dr. Theodore Fujita (Dr. Tornado). Author Mark Levine definitely did his homework, talking to many of the leading tornado researchers while writing the book. However, F5 is primarily focused on the people who lived in Limestone County, Alabama--a rural area 20 miles west of Huntsville. We get an in-depth portrayal of the lives of about 30 residents affected by the tornado before, during, and after the storm. Many chapters are spent building up to the tornadoes, painting a detailed picture of what life was like in rural Alabama for these people in the early 1970s. Levine is a gifted writer, and for those interested in the human dimensions of this great tornado disaster, this book is for you. Also, readers who appreciate poetry (the author has written three books of poems, will enjoy Levine's flowery, wordy descriptions:

The fear instilled by tornadoes, and the fascination with them, is beyond rational accounting; they are the weather watcher's equivalent of charismatic megafauna. Their aura is not difficult to fathom. Descending suddenly, menacingly, and without reliable warning, the tornado serves as a near-primal expression of the mysterious and fraught relationship between individuals and the skies above them.

The book has some rather astounding "truth is stranger than fiction" passages. The eyewitness descriptions by the survivors of their horrifying moments flying through the roaring debris-filled air as a monstrous F-5 tornado rips through their homes are particularly riveting. The most amazing part about the events in Limestone County that night was that TWO violent tornadoes--an F4 and an F5--ripped through several hours apart, hitting some of the exact same places. Levine paints a harrowing and unforgettable picture of what it was like to live through the terror of the two tornadoes. Another excerpt:

What Jerry saw was strange and wondrous. Clouds were riding across open fields to the west, moving just like clouds do across the sky. As the clouds passed a steel TVA tower, it snapped out of the ground, and began rolling across the field. A moment later, a second tower was toppled. To Jerry, the scene resembled something out of a cartoon, with the 120-foot high girders skipping like tumbleweeds.


What I didn't like about the book
While F5 is well written and absolutely fascinating in sections, I thought the book was too verbose and took too long to get to the action. I found myself skipping over some sections. The book also introduced too many characters to follow, and I got confused about who was whom. One of my many character flaws is a disinterest in poetry, and I found that the dense, flowery, poetic language of Levine interfered with my desire to see the story moved forward and straightforward science to be presented. The tornadoes don't start their rampage through Limestone County until page 119 of this long, 276-page book, which was too long to wait for my impatient blood. If you want to read a fast-paced true-life tornado drama, pick up a copy of Nancy Mathis' excellent book Storm Warning, about the May 3, 1999 Oklahoma City tornado, which I reviewed earlier this year.

Overall, I give F5 2.5 stars out of 4. If you're a poetry fan, this book deserves a higher rating. F5 was published in May 2007, and is $17.13 at amazon.com.

I'll be back Friday with my bi-monthly 2-week outlook for hurricane season. The tropics are quiet, and the models are forecasting conditions will remain quiet into next week.

Jeff Masters

Book and Movie Reviews

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

do you think this thing is going to make it
I don't
Could someone tell me if I'm seeing 2 different low level spins, one east of the Belize/Mexico border and the other in the Yucatan channel, looking at the infared loop or is that one the ULL in the Yucatan channel and the other one a weak low level spin East of the Belize/Mexican border.
highndry1,

Yes, QuikSCAT was not designed to last this long. Several of its gyroscopes have already failed, and one more failure takes it out of commission.

It could, concieveably, last another 3-5 years, but it could also go out at any second.

It will take at least 7 years to build another one, and hurricane forecasts will be about 10% worse without it. Oh, and funding has NOT been granted for a replacement.
So -


Why aren't people up in arms about this? I mean really, we lose 10% of our ability to track huricanes after Katrina and nobody cares?!


what's the deal?!
Posted By: stormpetrol at 4:08 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.
Could someone tell me if I'm seeing 2 different low level spins, one east of the Belize/Mexico border and the other in the Yucatan channel, looking at the infared loop or is that one the ULL in the Yucatan channel and the other one a weak low level spin East of the Belize/Mexican border.


This link shows 2 lows if you click NCEP Fronts.
Link
So -


Why aren't people up in arms about this? I mean really, we lose 10% of our ability to track huricanes after Katrina and nobody cares?!


what's the deal?!


When tropical cyclogenesis is possible, people on here get hysterical. They are in a trance. LOL! I am too though, so no offense to anyone.

I am DEFINITELY concerned with the failure of QuikSCAT. I don't want the forecasts to get worse, and a 10% decrease in the quality of hurricane forecasts is quite a lot.
not much organization. we'll see what tomorrow holds.

CaribIR
Convection has died down for now as it usually does this time of night, I suspect by tomorrow morning everything will be in full bloom again, it also appears to have a ENE movement to me.
stormpetrol tropical system dont die down at night...tropical systems feed off the humidty and warm water at night..
Land thunderstorms die down over night.. not tropical systems.
2014. franck
Government today is primarily concerned with geopolitics and expanshion of capital and debt, not mortal needs of citizens.
.PREV DISCUSSION... /ISSUED 1126 PM CDT THU JUN 14 2007/

UPDATE...
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADARS SHOW SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS
ARE WEAKENING ACROSS SOUTH CENTRAL TEXAS LATE THIS EVENING AND
EXTEND IN AN ARC FROM CONCAN TO FLORESVILLE TO SPEAKS. EXPECT THIS
TREND TO CONTINUE AS AIRMASS SLOWLY STABILIZING AND HAVE DROPPED
POPS TO 20S MOST AREAS, EXCEPT 10S SOUTHWEST. HAVE ALSO REMOVED
MENTION OF SEVERE AND HEAVY RAINFALL. QUICK GLANCE AT INCOMING 00Z
MODEL RUNS SHOWS A FEW ROUNDS OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS FRIDAY
THROUGH THE WEEKEND AS MID AND UPPER LOW TAKES UP RESIDENCE OVER
TEXAS AND ONGOING FORECASTS MENTIONS THIS. HAVE DROPPED OVERNIGHT
AND EARLY MORNING TEMPERATURES AND DEWPOINTS SLIGHTLY BASED ON
CURRENT AND EXPECTED OBSERVATIONAL TRENDS. HAVE ALSO UPDATED WINDS
AND GUSTS TO REFLECT OUTFLOW BOUNDARIES AND IMPACT ON WINDS WITH
EXPECTATION THAT SOUTHERLY WINDS WILL RETURN BY MORNING.
OTHERWISE, ONGOING SOUTH CENTRAL TEXAS FORECASTS ARE ON TRACK.

OF NOTE, ALL THREE TIMES THE SPURS HAVE WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP, A
HURRICANE HAS HIT THE TEXAS COAST. 1999 WITH BRET, 2003 WITH
CLAUDETTE, AND 2005 WITH RITA. WILL 2007 CONTINUE THAT TREND?

This one is going to take some time if anything happens. The Buoy readings are unremarkable and wind direction has not shifted.
ok - i live in savannah - been offered a tick r/t to san diego from sun - friday - i don't want to take it if the weather is going to be awful here. I live in a flood zone...
2021. noshoes
"...a bunch of ordinary brainless women, thinking with their "little"

doublevision...I hope you can explain your way out of this one.
Sincerely,
No Shoes
(female)

Hmm... I would have to say that people in general are brainless. He was making a general statement by saying "brainless women". Generally refering to them as people. Which I'm sure is better than the casual Third world ideal that women are less than human.
what the heck did i walk into tonight?
lol... Umm... Thats a good question Mel. I'm not sure what I walked into either. Or what I just said. It is too late to be blogging, honestly.
see you tomorrow hellsniper.
Night. haha...
2029. C2News
I'm bored!
Hello c2news
Why aren't people up in arms over quikscat?

Who knows about it except us?

The satellite is also useful for studying deforestation and the melting of glaciers.

And the politicians don't give a crap because people don't know anything about it, and won't vote against them for ignoring it.
I reverse my previous comments:
The ULL appears to have died, and this thing looks more organized than a few hours ago!

I'm still hesitant to predict development, though.
I am waiting for a bit more convection before I become convinced
94L is alive on the Navy site.
It may develop, it may not. I'm gonna continue watching it though.
Yea, for some reason it looks more organized. Stronger convection on the IR seems to be wrapping around the center of Circ or the ULL
http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/sat_products.html


Check it out
Posted By: doublevision at 5:37 AM GMT on June 15, 2007.
It's just a bunch of ordinary brainless women, thinking with their "little" heads.lol I wouldn't put very much stock into what they are "broad" casting at all.lol


Doublevision, most on here are much smarter than I am and I qualify for MENSA. Obviously you are of the jock strap can't see past my nose hairs mentality. Be careful of whom you speak. And I am one of those with "little" heads. Also I have my CDL and can shoot better than most men. And I'm a grandma and probably look better than your 25 year old girlfriend so forget that angle too.

Don't irritate me when I wake up. Most on here are here for weather discussion and I doubt that the guys would like to be called broadcasters any more than the girls. This blob bears watching or it wouldn't be an invest, talk about small brained, duhhhhhhhhh.
On that note, back to bed.
Oh you guys are watching the area below the ULL? I thought the ULL would work its way down(?)
2041. bjdsrq
Stormpetrol said: Convection has died down for now as it usually does this time of night, I suspect by tomorrow morning everything will be in full bloom again, it also appears to have a ENE movement to me.


Nada. Convection looks like total crapola as I see it now at 5:30am Friday. However, NHC has now given this a glimpse of hope for development, which probably means it's dead also. ;-)

Additionally, all model runs over night, including CMC, have dropped this system regarding any genesis. Pls don't flame me about GFDL, it was last run 3 days ago.

The one thing most models runs do show however is that the bermuda high will finally kick into it's normal summer pattern, and that should mean more typical westcoast seabreeze thunderstorms in FL during the next week.
as for doublevision....it's obvious which head you're thinking with sweetie...
I was referring to mr. doublevisions senseless comment...sorry to interrupt...just had to be said....
have a lovely day...and pray for rain in south alabama if you are'nt busy....
It seems to me that the thunderstorms by central Cuba is what is absorbing the convection that tries to fire up near 94L's center. Is this part of the upper-level low?
.....uuuuummm, when is it going to cross over into the GOM?

....and uuuuummm, good morning! Getting a soaker here this morning...I'd almost forgotten what rain looked, sounds, smells and feels like! It's nice!
Morning all,

I have to admit nothing much looks impressive this morning.

Except, perhaps, that ridge of high pressure that looks to be setting up across the Central Atlantic. Whoo-ee boy, I sure do hope that's not where we get a permenant high feature. That would spell disaster for practically the entire region, but especially the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, and Florida.
...yep, Baha...a really rough spot for that high. If this were later in the season, we'd all be in a bind I'm sure!
BaHa

For us dumb people that just lurk here to listen and learn ... could you explain the significance of the high now and if it was later in the season.

Thanks
Morning everyone, looks like I haven't missed too much
i go for the NNW track.
Shear is low enough.
It will develop.
Not rapidly but this all could change once it reaches the GOM.
So Mississippi is a possibility.
TS very likely,hurricane unlikely but if it does follow that track and shear would fall in GOM coming days we have a hurricane.
sst is warm enough in GOM to give it strenght.
I'm one of the dumb people who normally just listen, but I believe the significance of the high later in the season is that any storms that form off of Africa (which start forming later in the season) would be funneled down the South side of the ridge of high pressure and all of them would be aimed right at us.
...sonofagunn, nice answer! T R O U B L E, it would be!
...lol, D O U B L E T R O U B L E ! ! !
Looks to me as if its not even going to make it to the GOM , Looks to be blowing East toward the Atlantic.
Yeah, that's just about right LOL.

The reason why this high interests me right now is that, as someone indicated earlier this week, the location of the Atlantic high at the end of June is often the general area where high pressure will hang out for much of the summer. The location of that high last year saved us in the Caribbean and the US from the worst of last years' hurricanes, almost all of which recurved harmlessly long before approaching the Eastern seaboard.

Here's hoping it retreats north and east. Then we can enjoy the thrill without being on the hot seat . . .
Anyway, I'm out. I gotta go to work this a. m.
Why does the NHC say this thing is moving NW???? Thats not even close! its getting pushed off to the ENE and it looks like the center is reforming way farth to the east.
This is now a whole new ball game with it this far East does it still look like the West side of Florida
The ULL is moving ENE bringing convection from 94L with it.
G35,
that's shear, and you see the cloud tops rotating as they blow off. It may reform farther east, lets see what happens later when new convection starts
Is anyone elses Atlantic Loops not working?
I can't get the loops to work in IE, I have to switch over the Firefox.
2072. MahFL
Oh I did not realise we had some actual action in the Caribbean....
I just dont see anything Moving NNW.

Loop has me dizzy now..lol
it is not because its not moving NW at the moment that it could not go NW tomorrow or two days from now.
Have to wait and see.
Its funny how so many think the spin thats moving ENE near cuba is 94L...lol...it is not...thats the ULL pulling convection and just about everything else from 94L with it...its gonna be at least a few (4-6) hours before this thing can even hold convection near its center...and by that time theres some lovely dry filling in behind the ULL. This dry air is gonna give 94L a run for its money as it drifts northward...20% chance this thing developes at all unless it gets alot of convection with it before moving up into the gulf...Work time...Ill check back in with you guys later....

Chris.
2076. emagirl
good morning everyone it seems i missed alot last night so do i understand right that we have an invest
good morning all

It is questionable whether Navy should have even classified this as 94L in the first place. Perhaps if they had waited for the quikscat pass last night they would not have. I was sceptical from late yesterday afternoon as to whether the "spin" everyone was attributing to a surface low was not in fact more related to the ULL that was passing overhead at the time and the QS pass now shows that there is no closed low even though there was and still is a low near Cozumel. Whether or not it can develop with the ULL having moved away is still in doubt given overall upper level wind conditions
2078. Drakoen
kman that low near cuba is an upper level low.
Except, perhaps, that ridge of high pressure that looks to be setting up across the Central Atlantic. Whoo-ee boy, I sure do hope that's not where we get a permenant high feature. That would spell disaster for practically the entire region, but especially the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, and Florida.


As if the current location of the high is bad enough, take a look at the 168 hour GFS forecast:

2080. Drakoen
looks like the models have changed their mind and have the system going thorugh Central-South Florida.
WOW, STL. That really IS bad. If this stays in place throughout the season, pray and prepare. LOL!
Drak

I should have said low pressure even though it has risen 4 mb from the lowest point. In any event you will recall that I had my doubts as to the actual strength and organization of 94L and those doubts have verified
Yeah kman, I'm beginning to wonder if 94L will hold up for another 6 hours. It may die off very quickly.
2084. Drakoen
Posted By: kmanislander at 12:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Drak

I should have said low pressure even though it has risen 4 mb from the lowest point. In any event you will recall that I had my doubts as to the actual strength and organization of 94L and those doubts have verified

hehe i doubt anythhing will work to the surface.
I want to update my tropical weather blog today, but should I, given the current unfavorable upper-level winds over the system, as well as its lack of organization? The ULL seems to be choking off all of the convection that 94L tries to build.

Should I really update?
Koritheman and Drak

The WV loop shows nothing but hostile winds streaming W to E from the Gomex across the NW Caribbean. I know Barry defied high shear but it won't happen like that often LOL
Anyway got to get ready for the day. Will check in later

Link
If we have the high there a month from now it means big trouble.
Morning all, as I said last nite. nothing going on with 94L. Now we need a new blob. LOL
morning all! :)

GFS still shows a Pensacola storm in 6 days! LOL

UKMET shows notta!

and the FSU site has no GFDL, and the PSU site won't let me see the GFDL (forbidden! LOL)

from the looks of things, the models are not doing well on 94L.
2090. Drakoen
Posted By: kmanislander at 12:29 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Koritheman and Drak

The WV loop shows nothing but hostile winds streaming W to E from the Gomex across the NW Caribbean. I know Barry defied high shear but it won't happen like that often LOL
Anyway got to get ready for the day. Will check in later

yea which is what i said over and over yesterday about the strong upper level winds.
2091. Drakoen
thelmores the CMC take it though south Florida.
2092. 4Gaia
I agree Cayman, I think 94L was premature. Which is not to say it wont become a much needed rainmaker. That having been said, what is going to happen after these areas of shear dissapate. It may be an interesting August for the Carib. and Gulf.
looks like there is still a low south of cozumel, but little convection!
Whats the link to Sketobite or whatever its called????
2095. 4Gaia
Ican't get over the increase in sst's the past week or so.
have not seen the 1506 CMC yet....... only see the 1500 CMC......
Or where do you get the Spag Models??
2098. Drakoen
the shear is still high because the trough has yet to move north. When it does we could see some organization. TWC say there is a mid level spin just west of cuba. Thats what they are watching to see if something can come down to the surface.
2099. 4Gaia
Welcome back Rat! I havent seen your posts since last year.
Hey All....All of the convection that was trying to form around the low yesterday (looked impressive yesterday) is getting blown to bits by shear off to the NE so I do not think that there will a flight this afternoon to invest....In accordance with the NHC outlook, we should not expect anything until next week (Seems like Dr. M was right on when he took his family vacation advising us that nothing significant would develop for a few weeks based upon sheer and other conditions)..
looking at things, looks like the low south of Cozumel will slowly drift northward today....

BAMM's fom 00 show NW! LOL
2102. 4Gaia
Do we have any idea on when the trough might move?
It would appear all is quite in Carib. the CMC has nothing developing now
Ive been around as soon as tropics think about warming up you will find me here, usually just reading not posting
2105. Drakoen
is the quicksat for the morning up?
00 SPAGHETTI



still waiting on 06
2107. Drakoen
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 12:55 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

It would appear all is quite in Carib. the CMC has nothing developing now


look at the 850mb. it has a weak low moving across south Florida as of the 0z
2108. 4Gaia
I think we should all appreciate the calm before the tropics really heat up! At least one worker was killed when a section of the Bay Saint Louis bridge collapsed during Katrina repairs yesterday. At least ten workers fell into the water.
Drak that i saw but nothing like it had on there yesterday
GOM
Road Closed
Off to work for a few hours, but, if it is historically true that the BH location does not change too much once it sets up in June, then, we are it for a rough season in Florida and the Gulf. BTW, I attended a seminar session by the head of emergency operations for Home Depot three weeks ago (they follow weather conditions and forecasts across the US very carefully) and he advised us that (unlike last year), that HD ordered "a lot" of generators for this year's hurricane season....
once the shear relaxes, things may get very busy!
2113. 4Gaia
Yup.
4Gaia~ You can thank the doldrums for the rise in SST in the GOM, the last week.
2116. Drakoen
It will be intersting to see what happens once the trough moves back to the north more.
2117. 4Gaia
I've been in the doldrums too.. perhaps that explains my foul mood of late. Now, will the sst's in the gom level off, increase or what?
2119. Drakoen
the new quicksat doesn't show anything at the surface.
They will overall get a lot hotter as summer progresses. The doldrums are the lack of surface winds which limits evaperation, upwelling & cooling of the SST~ the more doldrums the more depressed & anxcious the gulf people will most likely be.
2121. Drakoen
Its Looking like this was a false alarm. Drak you did say two days ago that this wouldnt develope you were right
2123. 4Gaia
I don't see it developing. I would like to see a rainmaker however.
2124. Drakoen
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 1:25 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Its Looking like this was a false alarm. Drak you did say two days ago that this wouldnt develope you were right

:). i wouldn't count the system out though. The shear is expected to relax and then the mid level low can work down tot he surface. right you can see the low just west of cuba on the low cloud product. I also want to point out the outflow that extends from cuba to the southern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Sorta of a wraping feature.
94L is a goneer oh bye bye 94L now we wait for 95L
2127. Drakoen
taz just because it doesn't look impressive now doens't mean that that can't change. the trough still has to move to the north.
2128. 4Gaia
Good job Stormw.
2130. 4Gaia
Off topic, we had a good pop-up thunder storm yesterday. It lasted about an hour. Lots of lightning and some local flooding. all of the ditches were full to overflowing then blue skies and sunshine.
Drak lol you have to remember im not even close to being able to see things on these maps. I can do ok with the models but to look at a photo just have not been doing this that long.
2132. bjdsrq
As of 9:30am EDT Friday, GFS, CMC, UKMET show *nothing* developing for their entire run duration. Blob also failed to build any significant convection during the night. I'd say recon is cancelled and this one is likely a goner.
Drak

What do you make of this

Link
2136. 4Gaia
Daphne, Al.
Here is a freeze frame 60 hours out

http://moe.met.fsu.edu/cgi-bin/gfstc2.cgi?time=2007061506&field=850mb+Vorticity&hour=060hr
2138. Drakoen
the GFS have a well defined system indicated by the isolines at 850 mb (low level). The strength of this system will be based on the upper level winds. The current upper level winds are not conducive for tropical cyclone development because of the upper level trough. This trough is over South Florida and is expected to move north. This factor may give way to some develop as the system moves to the NE. As of now i saw Florida should expect a rain maker.

I have update my blog. Please read my tropical outlook for my analysis.
2139. nash28
Hello all. We have 94L?
So Drak did i do good with that
2141. Drakoen
Posted By: nash28 at 1:48 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Hello all. We have 94L?

yes we do. As part of a mid level spin west of Cuba.
2142. Drakoen
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 1:49 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

So Drak did i do good with that

yep
2143. nash28
Thanks Drak. Just woke up, so need my coffee to get going..
Looking at the water vapor, it looks like the ULL is heading back west. Any input?
nash, we had 94L yesterday evening! LOL

where you been! :)
I was looking at the map below and where the center is totally threw me off. It's just about devoid of clouds as TWC had to hi-light the center for us probably because no one could have found it.
Kind of strange they are sending Recon when most of the clouds are blown to the NE and the center has no clouds. I understand they found some winds but they might be jumping the gun on the Recon flight. There is also a trough digging southward--wouldn't that preclude it's North movement?
2147. Patrap
Tropical Basin WV Link
2148. Drakoen
Posted By: TheCaneWhisperer at 1:53 PM GMT on June 15, 2007.

Looking at the water vapor, it looks like the ULL is heading back west. Any input?

there isn't an upper level low. there is a mid level spin west of cuba. Hurricane RECON is gonna investigate that area to at 2:00pm to see if is at the surface.
2149. IKE
NEW BLOG!
2150. nash28
I was asleep. Pain kicked in and I promptly went to bed...
If it was my gas monEy, I'd save it for maybe tomorrow! LOL
h 23 was right on with this system yesterday afternoon. "no development" with the pressure dropping the clouds pulsing I thought for sure we would get a girl out of this . give it to you h23 have a nice day
2153. Drakoen
seems that the mid level spion is moving to the NW that should change when it meet with the trough to a more NE direction. The trough is moving to the north. yesterday it was over the keys and now its in south miami dade county. as the trough moves to the north the upper level winds are expected to relax. i also want to note a new area of heavy convection south of the mid level spin.